Peyton Manning is certainly the linchpin of the best offense in NFL history but if you’re looking for an apt description of the game’s most explosive unit, try sharing the wealth like all good socialists want you to believe they do, until they run out of other people’s money.
The Denver Broncos were the first team in NFL history with five players scoring at least 10 touchdowns from scrimmage. Before the Broncos accomplished that feat, no other team in league lore had more than three players reach double figures.
“I think with this group, we speak of, ‘To be an outstanding team, you have to be selfless, not selfish,’” Denver coach John Fox said. “I think that speaks to the character of those guys in that room. They don’t get all pouty, or whatever you might want to put on it, about things like that. They just care about winning. I appreciate that attitude and I appreciate that mindset from those guys.”
The success of the Denver offense is directly tied to Manning’s high level of performance, along with a stunning group of playmakers which includes slot star Wes Welker, along with outside the numbers threats Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, as well as dynamic tight end Julius Thomas.
“Yeah, it’s impressive,” New England safety Steve Gregory said when talking about Denver’s playmakers. “You know, Decker, Thomas — the two Thomases — and then Wes.”
The running game is generated off that passing game and can gash you with veteran Knowshon Moreno, who cracked the 1,000-yard rushing mark and finished with 13 total TDs, or rookie Montee Ball, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry in the regular season.
“As long as we were winning and doing what we have to do to come out with big victories — different people having the ball in their hand — it doesn’t matter,” Moreno said. “They’re making plays. You’re happy for them. That is just the character of a lot of guys on this team.”
The Broncos played with stunning efficiency this season, scoring 71 offensive touchdowns on 202 possessions, a 35.1 percentage, eight points higher than any other team.
No matter where you look the Denver offense is superlative. It’s red-zone efficiency of 76.1 percent (51-of-67) led the NFL. After allowing the fewest sacks in the league this season (20) and producing an NFL-high six games without giving up a quarterback takedown, the offensive line has only upped its proficiency in the postseason, going back-to-back games without allowing a sack.
Since taking over as Denver’s starting running back in Week 12 of the 2012 season, the unheralded Moreno ranks seventh in the NFL with 1,548 rushing yards and fifth in the league with 13 rushing scores, while the Broncos were the first team in history with five players catching at least 60 passes in a season.
It all begins and ends with Manning, perhaps the best signal caller to ever play the game and certainly the most astute of this generation, a player who simply outworks his competition off the field in the preparation aspect.
Manning is akin to having an offensive coordinator under center with the ability to get out of bad plays and into good ones in the blink of an eye. He performs at such a high level that each and every season is always Super Bowl title or bust for him and his teams, a measuring stick which actually speaks to his greatness.
“He’s been remarkable,” Fox said. “It’s unprecedented what he did.”
What he did was have the best statistical season in NFL history, breaking multiple NFL passing records, most notably the single-season marks for touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477), while piloting an offense which led the league in scoring (37.9 points per game) and totaled the most points (606) ever.
Yet, the tag of coming up small in big games has haunted Manning since his college days at the University of Tennessee, where former Florida coach Steve Spurrier used to pile on Manning and the Volunteers by saying “you can’t spell Citrus without UT,” a reference to the Vols inability to get to the more high- profile Sugar Bowl, often settling for the Citrus Bowl.
Of course, a heck of a lot of other players have suited up with Manning over the years and the supporting cast hasn’t exactly been a constant in Manning’s postseason career.
Those kinds of things are all white nose to the everything is black-and-white crowd, however, the same group which wants to sacrifice Manning to the god of underachievers every time he loses a playoff game, something he has done 11 different times in his NFL career.
Most quarterbacks understand the job description and for the most part accept the fact they will be getting more credit than they deserve after a win and more blame than they should receive after a setback. That’s the nature of being the face of the franchise and playing perhaps the most important position in all of sports.
That said Manning more than held up his end of the bargain and clearly outplayed his long-time nemesis Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game, something even his harshest detractors would have a hard time disputing. Heck, he even made losing more palatable for some of the Patriots.
“Losing is never easy,” New England edge rusher Rob Ninkovich said. “But when you have somebody as talented as (Manning), who puts in as much work and effort, and has done it for so long, it’s a little bit easier to swallow.”
Below is a capsule look at the offense of the Denver Broncos:
QUARTERBACKS: Manning will be playing in his third career Super Bowl on Feb. 2., joining ex-Bronco Craig Morton and Kurt Warner as the only three quarterbacks in league history to lead multiple teams to the Super Bowl.
A second Super Bowl crown is likely, the only thing that will silence some of the Peyton hatin’ crew, who tend to move the goal posts when Manning wins the AFC Championship Game. The conference title tilt ceases to be a big game and the Super Bowl becomes the be all, end all.
“The Super Bowl is always special, no matter where it is played,” said Manning. “For a lot of our players, it is their first time playing in one. So I think the fact that it is in New York is certainly going to be special, but it is a big deal because we worked so hard to get to this point. Two teams that have worked hard and have really laid it on the line all season long to be here. This is why you work hard all offseason for this opportunity. There is no question it is a big deal and it is very special to be playing in this game.”
His backup, the 6-foot-7 inch Brock Osweiler, is completely untested.
RUNNING BACKS: Moreno isn’t a gamebreaker, as evidenced by the fact his longest run on the season was just 31 yards, and the Broncos planned to use Ronnie Hillman as the starter early in the season until fumbling issues put him in the doghouse. To be truthful, if Moreno, who is dealing with a rib injury, didn’t have Manning checking into runs when he sees soft fronts, he wouldn’t be nearly as effective but for this team in this situation, he’s been extremely productive.
“I feel good. It is what it is,” Moreno said of his injury. “You have to just stay on top of it. For a lot of people, not a lot of injuries would keep you out of a game like this. I feel good though.”
Ball brings a nice change of pace and is far more explosive than Moreno but like most rookies pass protection can be an issue and with Denver that’s job No. 1.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: Broncos wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and
Decker combined for the most receiving yards (2,718) in the NFL among offensive tandems in 2013. Thomas ranked fourth in the league with 1,430 yards while Decker’s 1,288 yards ranked 12th. The duo, who last year became the youngest receiving tandem in NFL history to post 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns each in the same year, join Cris Carter and Randy Moss (Minnesota 1998-99) as just the second duo in league history with 1,000 yards and 10 TDs each in consecutive seasons. Thomas is especially dangerous, ranking first in the NFL with 35 receptions of 25 yards or more since the beginning of last season.
“I think every game presents different challenges, whether it is certain coverages,” Decker said. “This, again, is going to be a huge challenge. We faced (Seattle) in the preseason and they’re tough. And we know we’ve got our work cut out for us. But again, we’re excited for that challenge and just to have the opportunity to be playing in the Super Bowl.”
Add in Welker, who owns two of the top four single-season receiving totals in NFL history in addition to being one of two players in league annals to top the 100-catch mark five times, from the slot, and it becomes a who do you cover situation for any defense.
The fact that Denver also has a top-tier receiving threat at tight end in Julius Thomas makes it almost unfair. A former basketball player at Portland State tied for fifth in the NFL with 12 receiving touchdowns this season — a total that represents the most in team history by a tight end. Thomas, who battled multiple injuries while combining for just one catch during his first two NFL seasons, finished the 2013 campaign with 65 receptions for 788 yards (12.1 avg.) to earn his first career Pro Bowl selection.
“I’m just really excited for the guy that he got healthy and did all the hard work it takes,” Fox said. Then he came in and learned a pretty intricate system from a pretty demanding quarterback and has done an outstanding job.”
OFFENSIVE LINE: The offensive line has continued to perform at a high level despite losing perhaps the best left tackle in the game, Ryan Clady, and veteran center Dan Koppen. The group is led by a pair of Pro Bowl-level guards in Zane Beadles and Louis Vasquez.
Vasquez, who was signed by the Broncos in March as an unrestricted free agent from San Diego, earned his first career Pro Bowl selection after playing every offensive snap (1,207) and representing one of just three 16-game starting NFL guards to allow zero sacks on the year.
Manning’s ability to read the opposing defense and his lightning-quick release have helped fill-in left tackle Chris Clark, while center Manny Ramirez and right tackle Orlando Franklin have been solid for the most part.